Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Historical Script

Ever since the French Revolution, men have been taught to wear their passions like cockades — as visible political statements. Yet naturally one does not dress oneself by passion; one does so by habit and convention, or by deliberation; and so it is that these displays of passion are often somewhat inauthentic in their putative spontaneity.
.....Outrage is hoisted aloft like a standard, set with the formulary design of words such as “vile” and “abhorrent”, in a public ceremony that marks the occasion for political reaffirmation.
.....Acts, apparently driven by passions, are often play-acts, actually driven by conformity to precedents. It struck Tocqueville that the men who stormed the National Assembly in 1848 were like actors playing the historical role of revolutionaries, following a script that had been read and rehearsed in popular imagination ever since the Revolution, but which they had not learned by heart, at least not enough to persuade a keen observer of their complete authenticity.
.....Already when a present event is felt to be an historical moment, it loses a little of its authentic spontaneity, for part of that feeling is ham-acted to an audience of expectations. Insofar as the confidence of free imagination is lacking, history becomes a constraint rather than an inspiration to new deeds. Freedom and spontaneity and new avenues of action are lost. Men act things out according to what they think is expected of them, of what they imagine befits their roles, quite as if they had to stay true to a script which history had demanded they perform without significant change or omission. Thereof one need take no dim view. It may on occasion bring hackneyed drama, but without that historical script, we should likely have to suffer performance art.


malpas said...

I'm not sure what your point is but group behaviour is often imitative or trained to be so. Military units encourage loyalty to the unit.
and "England expects every man to do his duty" and everyone knew what that was

Anonymous said...

"It struck Tocqueville that the men who stormed the National Assembly in 1848 were like actors": exactly the same thing struck me about the evenements of 1968 - I was a student too at the time, and the inauthenticity was obvious. But not to old de Gaulle, who got cold feet and fled across the Rhine. Ever since, I've known that almost all lefties I've met have been bogus - they are posing, they wish to flaunt their hearts on their sleeves. Of course, the few authentic ones are terrifying, since they intend not to be so namby-pamby with the Kulaks next time.

James Higham said...

Guy Burgess was a classic case of this though I feel Philby did it tongue in cheek at all times.

Deogolwulf said...


In my muddled way, I mean the passion-fakers and the -copiers, calculating for political effect or group-belonging, as well as those who, having in mind historical examples which stand out to them only in bold and broad outline, almost cartoonish, feel that their moment must compare to those examples. Hence they perform as if in an historical drama, or even a soap-opera, as much according to the crowd-pleasing cliches of precedent as to the gravity of the moment. (Naturally journalists encourage this sort of over-dramatisation.) No event is so grave that it cannot be cheapened by this penny-theatre. And it shows that such people, for all their exaggeration, do not take such events, or their effects on them, seriously enough.


Am I right in suspecting that Che Guevara's saintly image did not appear on your bedroom-wall?

Anonymous said...

No beggar's image has ever appeared on my bedroom-wall, Mr D. Though I did use to display a copy of Picasso's Don Quixote. Picasso had talent enough, I've often thought, to be decent third-rate non-bogus painter.

Magotty Man said...

This happens on every level, down to why me and you and the funny fellow out there do what we do. It reminds me of this old post of mine - http://scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com/2008/02/voices-in-my-head.html

- if I may be allowed to shamelessly link myself.

Sky Captain said...

This is not a time for soundbites..... but I feel the hand of history on my shoulder...

....she was (blub, snif) the people's princess...

(Prague Spring)
...fuckin' hell! You're gonna shoot me? Not really? Shit!

Derby WEA said...

Concerning the inauthenticity of passion - I passed a white van the other day and on its side it bore the legend "Passionate about delivering your laundry solutions."

It's not just lefties who wear their passions on their sleeves - everyone's got to have a passion these days, even the unfortunate youth who applies for a dish washing position must demonstrate a "passion for food."

I like your blog.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Higham,

Burgess was a mess.


Glad to hear it.


You may of course self-link, with or without shame. Interesting thoughts. It seems we are often dragged along by the change of words rather than remaining loyal to what they once denoted.


Language, Timothy!


That is a particularly awful example. You are right: some of the worst abuses are committed by businessmen and marketers. I have a boss whose "personal commitment statement" is "Passion for People". I cannot deny its inspirational effect: it makes me want to strangle him.

Anonymous said...

Is this an excuse to have a pop at George Galloway?

If so, can I join the queue to stick the boot into the gorgeous one?

Deogolwulf said...

Feel free, Recusant. Whilst you're at it, have a go at Tariq Ali as well.